“WOULDN’T you like to write music for someone famous like NSYNC?” a Clarkston High School student asked Greg Yasinitsky.
But Yasinitsky, a Washington State University music professor and jazz studies coordinator and a nationally recognized composer, arranger, and saxophonist, can handle it.
“We’re in the only field where we have to compete with dead people for jobs. In jazz, everyone can buy a John Coltrane CD. Why buy yours?” he says.
Yasinitsky reflected on the first of his three years as composer-in-residence at Clarkston High (CHS), sponsored by the Commission Project of New York. He received the project’s inaugural Washington state residency in October 2000, the first West Coast composer to be so honored.
“The commission’s purpose is to show that we’re living, breathing human beings that go through a process to create the music,” he says.
Yasinitsky works with some 300 music students in a high school whose typical interaction with composers spans three days, not three years. The low-key, late-rising Yasinitsky also melds styles with CHS’s dynamo of a music director, Fred Dole, who, Yasinitsky admits, “tires me out” with near-constant enthusiasm, a photographic memory for everyone’s unique minutiae, and an inclination toward 7 a.m. band practices.
But the two men share a most important quality for any kind of creative collaboration: the desire to instill love of the arts in the next generation. This in mind, Dole asked Yasinitsky to write a piece to celebrate the completion of the school’s Performing Arts Center. The piece had to be scored for every CHS student involved in music “to show that, symbolically, the center is for every kid in the school,” Yasinitsky says.
His piece, “A Statement of Principles,” drew its inspiration from an advocacy document created by the Music Educators National Conference. The CHS choir and concert band premiered the piece to a packed house during the March 1 center dedication. WSU School of Music and Theatre Arts students also presented it the same month during the Performing Arts Gala commemorating President V. Lane Rawlins’s inauguration.
“The [advocacy document] was written by committee,” Yasinitsky says, “but its spirit was about the importance of the arts to a community.”
The text reads: “A statement of principles! All who share our concern about the quality of education in general, and of arts education in particular, should understand the value of arts education for every child. We invite all Americans to join us in support of the following principles. Every student in the nation should have an education in the arts! The arts should be recognized as serious, academic subjects. On behalf of the students we teach, the schools we work in and communities we serve, we ask all Americans to join us in protecting and advancing opportunities for all to receive an education in the arts! A statement of principles for all! The arts for all!”
“As musicians, we’re constantly having to make that case,” Yasinitsky says.